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Joe Williams Biography

Born December 12, 1918, in Cordele, Georgia, Joseph Goreed was raised by his grandmother until he was three, when he reunited with his mother in Chicago. She was the organist at the Methodist church they attended. When Joe was not singing spirituals, he was receiving piano lessons from her. As a teen, Joe formed a gospel vocal quartet of his own, called The Jubilee Boys. They sang for churches around Chicago. In the late 1930’s, he switched from singing in churches to singing in clubs for orchestras led by Jimmy Noone and Les Hite.

In the 1940’s, Joe sang and recorded for the first time with Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy. However, a scathing battle with tuberculosis during his teen years limited his ability to tour. He supported himself as a cosmetics salesman and as a doorman at the Regal Theater in Chicago. Joe’s boss at the Regal arranged for him to sing for Lionel Hampton at the Tick Tock in Boston. Later, Count Basie band members recommended Joe to their leader. Between 1954 and 1961, Joe was Basie’s male vocalist. "Everyday I Have the Blues" became his signature song, which climbed to Number Two on the R&B charts along with "Alright, Okay, You Win." Both singles came from his debut album with Basie, Basie Swings / Joe Williams Sings. Even after Joe went solo in 1961, the two jazz greats continued to perform together from time to time until Basie’s passing in 1984. Since then, Joe always dedicated his rendition of "You Are So Beautiful" to Basie.

The 1960’s were another busy decade for Williams, now lending his baritone voice to another Basieite, Harry “Sweets” Edison. He released a solo album in 1963, Jump for Joy, and recorded two more that year, At Newport ’63 and Me and the Blues. Joe often performed at festivals, in clubs, and on television.

Through the 1970’s he sang with George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley and Basie. In the 1980’s he won a Grammy for the LP I Just Wanna Sing, and he had a recurring role as Grandpa Al on The Cosby Show. In 1993, he won an Ebony Lifetime Acheivement Award.
Joe Williams brought richness, grit and passion to the role of the big band singer and to the blues. He passed away on March 29, 1999 at the age of 80.
 
George Shearing Biography

Born August 13, 1919 in the Battersea area of London, George Shearing was the youngest of nine offspring in a blue-collar home. His father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains by night and cared for her children by day. Blind at birth, Shearing was encouraged by his family to sit at the piano when he was only three years old. He is told that he used to listen to the radio, then go to the piano and hammer out the notes until each song was fully decoded. Eventually, he received formal training in music at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind. He attended for four years, which was enough training to win university scholarships. But these awards were not enough incentive to take him from the lucrative opportunity to play piano at the neighborhood pub, Mason’s Arms, in Lambeth, for a whopping, weekly salary of one pound and five schillings.

In the 1930’s he played with an all-blind band, which led him to meet jazz critic Leonard Feather, who booked a spot for him on BBC radio. In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry’s band. He crossed the critical threshold of his career in 1946, when he visited the United States for three months. He concluded America was the place to be. The following year he immigrated to the U.S. and was naturalized in 1956.
 
He first received national attention in 1949, when he assembled a quintet who recorded and released the hit, "September in the Rain," for MGM. The record proved to be a huge success, selling 900,000 copies. This record opened doors everywhere, including the legendary New York jazz club, Birdland.

Throughout his career of more than 50 years, Shearing has played with many of the best, including Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Joe Williams, and numerous others. Being one of America’s most popular musicians, he played for Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, as well as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He has written more than 300 compositions including the standard, Lullaby of Birdland. In 1982 and 1983, he won Grammy Awards for his recordings with Mel Tormé. In 1993, he was presented the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement.